The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a Geneva man should be granted a new trial because Kane County prosecutors committed several errors, among them allowing a former FBI profiler to testify as a crime scene expert witness when he was not.
Shadwick King was convicted in 2015 of murdering his wife, Kathleen King, and putting her body on train tracks. King, 52, is serving a 30-year sentence at Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, records show.
King always maintained his innocence.
“We respect the court’s decision, and we are prepared to re-try the case,” Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said in a statement.
The Illinois Second District Appellate Court in Elgin also had issued a unanimous ruling Aug. 21, 2018, that King should get a new trial, which the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office appealed to the state supreme court.
Both the 27-page appellate ruling and the 22-page supreme court decision cited the testimony of Mark Safarik, a “crime scene and behavioral analyst” as beyond the scope of his expertise as a basis for granting King a new trial.
“There is absolutely no question that Safarik never should have been allowed to testify as an expert in this case,” the ruling stated. “Safarik’s testimony was inadmissible in its entirety. ... In reaching this conclusion, we wish to stress that we will not condone the calling of experts solely for the purpose of shoring up one party’s theory of the case.”
After establishing Safarik’s expertise in crime scene analysis, prosecutors then elicited opinions that were beyond that expertise, according to the ruling.
“Safarik is undoubtedly an expert in criminal investigation and crime scene analysis,” the ruling stated. “But that is hardly the same thing as being an expert in forensic pathology or botany, both of which are scientific fields into which Safarik’s testimony repeatedly transgressed. ... Safarik never should have been allowed to testify to these matters, and the trial court’s failure to exclude such testimony was undeniably error.”
In a footnote, the ruling stated that his testimony about the leaf fragments “was especially egregious.”
“Safarik testified, that in his expert opinion, Kathleen was killed at home and part of the basis for this opinion was his observation that leaves found on her body were ‘consistent with’ leaves found in and around her home,” according to the ruling’s footnote.
Safarik was allowed to testify in the absence of any training or expertise in botany – but also in the face of two laboratory findings that could not determine whether the leaves found on her body came from the home property, according to the ruling’s footnote.
Arguing that Safarik was “an expert in drawing inferences from crime scenes” meant that Kane prosecutors were “effectively calling a 13th juror to the stand to lend his expert imprimatur to the state’s characterization of the evidence. That is a wholly improper use of expert testimony, and we want to make absolutely clear that such testimony is not to be permitted going forward.”
The state supreme court also found that including emotional testimony from Kathleen King’s father and sister about their reaction to the news of her death, “was unduly prejudicial and therefore should have been excluded.”
How they reacted “is of no probative value whatsoever on the question of [the] defendant’s guilt or innocence, while at the same time, being highly and inherently prejudicial against [the] defendant,” the ruling stated. “We therefore agree entirely with the appellate court’s conclusion that all such testimony is wholly inadmissible on retrial.”
The court held that Kane prosecutors also erred on the term “reasonable doubt” in closing arguments, in that they “improperly attempted to define and dilute the reasonable doubt standard in its closing argument and that similar comments must be avoided on remand.”
In an email, the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office could not state when King’s new trial would begin.